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updated: 8/28/2011 4:14 PM

Relatives of six who died in fire sue Aurora landlords

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It won't bring them back, but relatives and guardians of six people killed in a deadly house fire in Aurora this spring are suing their former landlords for negligence and wrongful death.

Officials said the May 15 blaze at a 10-unit apartment building in the 700 block of Claim Street on the city's near east side was the worst in Aurora's history.

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Killed were: Francisco Marcos Sr., his wife Micaela Perez, their kids Francisco, Jr., 6, and Jose Marcos, 9.

Christina Dominguez Navarro, 35, and her 8-month-old son, Alex Gonzaga, who both lived in a separate unit, also died.

Teodoro Perez, who was 14 at the time and lost his parents and siblings, survived and is suing for damages.

The lawsuit, filed in Kane County earlier this month, names Jose Roberto Alaya, Lucilla Alaya, Ruben Renteria and Rodolfo Corral as defendants and seeks more than $50,000 damages, which a customary monetary threshold required in civil suits.

A jury, if the case goes that far, could award more if the defendants are found liable.

The suit claims the Alayas owned the building and Corral and Renteria were employees whose duties included operation and maintenance at the building.

The suit charges them with negligence for not providing, inspecting or installing smoke detectors. Other allegations are that the apartments units didn't have adequate escapes and they failed to provide automatic closing doors on the apartment units. No criminal charges have been filed in the response to the fire.

The case is set for an initial hearing Nov. 3 before Judge Robert Spence.

Evidence reinstated: Kane County prosecutors recently were granted a reprieve on a felony phone harassment case that was essentially thrown out by a judge but reinstated by an appellate court panel.

John C. Armbrust, 45, of unincorporated Winfield, was charged with harassment by telephone for calling a woman in October 2008 and threatening to kill her.

But the late Judge Jordan Gallagher agreed with a defense motion that the calls' content should be excluded because it violated the state's eavesdropping statute.

Armbrust's defense attorney Daniel Collins successfully argued that when the victim placed the phone call on her friend's speakerphone to hear the threats. that action changed the phone into an eavesdropping device.

Not so, the appellate panel concluded, sending the case back to court in St. Charles.

The panel ruled that using the speakerphone merely turned up the volume and did not break the law.

"It is well recognized that a phone does not constitute an eavesdropping device unless it has been altered in such a manner that it can no longer perform its customary functions of transmitting and receiving sounds," the panel wrote. "Accordingly, an unaltered phone is not considered an eavesdropping device, even where the receiver is tilted so that another person may listen in or a person listens on an extension."

No new court date has been set; if convicted of the felony, Armbrust faces up to three years in prison, but probation also is an option.

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